Hugh Rowland, from ‘Ice Road Truckers,’ talks candidly about the dangers of his job

Hugh Rowland from ‘Ice Road Truckers’ — Photo courtesy of The History Channel

With a profession most people think is unimaginable, Hugh ‘Polar Bear’ Rowland takes it all in stride. The star of The History Channel’s successful reality series, Ice Road Truckers, puts on his hat, revs up his truck’s engine and plies through the treacherous Canadian snow in a place many believe is fit for Santa Claus, and nobody else. Rowland, a domineering personality with a peppered beard, knows about the danger of driving his trucks over the thin ice of Canada’s northern reaches. But nothing stops the Polar Bear, and there’s a lot of money to be earned when putting one’s life on the line.

“I’ve done it my whole life, since I was kid,” Rowland said recently during a phone interview. “That’s what I do for a job, and everybody watches it on TV.”

Rowland, a veteran of the reality series, said he was first contacted by The History Channel several years ago. At first, he didn’t take the call seriously. “They gave me a call and they said, ‘We’d like to put some cameras in your trucks and follow you to Yellowknife.’ I said, ‘Well, ice roads are over. I just got home. You’ll have to do it next year.’ They said, ‘That’s what we mean.’ I said, ‘Well, then give me a call next year.’ I thought it was one of my buddies just making a prank joke. My God, next year they came right to my house and put some cameras in my trucks … and it’s still going strong.”

It took some adjusting to get used to a camera crew filming his profession, but Rowland said he doesn’t “even realize they’re there anymore. … They’re there do to their job, so they kind of leave me alone. They’re not right in your face all the time unless they’re getting some good shots. You just drive along doing what you do.”

Driving trucks over the Canadian ice, helping to haul loads to and from the remotest places on the planet, all began when the Polar Bear was just a teenager. “One day they had a load going up to one of the goldmines and they said, ‘Do you want to go?’ And, of course, that was big money back then. You’d take a couple days off work and go make $500-$600 in one trip. I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll go.’ And that’s just how I started, and then when the diamond mines and all goldmines started rolling, it just got busier and busier and I just started buying my own trucks.”

Photo courtesy of The History Channel

With seven trucks and several drivers under his responsibility, Rowland has become one of the most successful ice road truckers in the business. Interestingly, the profession only takes up about three months of the year. When the weather is warmer, and the ice too thin to travel on, he heads his own construction company.

Driving his own vehicles comes easy, but there’s also a level of trust he needs to have with the men who drive his trucks into the hellish weather. “I like to teach the guys what I want them to know and do it my way. … I’d rather have a greenhorn up there and teach him my way of doing it. Then I know it’s done the way I want it done, and not some other way.”

Rowland’s unique style of driving — some would say aggressive — has made him a memorable TV personality. Ask any Ice Road Truckers fan about the ‘Polar Bear,’ and it doesn’t take long for the audience member to form an opinion. The nickname seems to suit his personality. Rowland said he received the moniker in the early 1980s after his colleagues saw ‘Polar Bear’ on a truck’s bug deflector. “And everybody said, ‘That fits you perfect.’ I was just a hairy, gruffy guy, pretty aggressive up there. I like to fistfight lots. And he just called me the Polar Bear, and it kind of stuck. I’ve had it for 30 years.”

Throughout those 30 years, Rowland has experienced all scenarios play out on the road. When the temperatures dip to 60 below, danger is possible at every turn. “I’ve froze just about every part of my body,” he said. “I’ve froze the end of my fingers off. They were black, turned rotten. I froze my cheeks, my nose. I froze my knees, my toes. I froze everything. … I’ve been in a snowstorm where my truck has been completely covered in a drift, and I’ve been stuck there for three days.”

It takes a certain type of person to deal with the peril. “It’s more than just going up there to say you’ve been there,” Rowland said. “You got to want to be there. You got to respect the ice. If you don’t respect the ice, you’re either going to get hurt or somebody else is going to die because of your stupidity.”

Even though he’s been trucking for decades, the Polar Bear doesn’t see an end in sight, especially now that he’s a reality TV celebrity. “I’ll probably do it until I’m not enjoying it, and I enjoy the s*** out of it right now,” he said. “I’ll probably do it for years to come yet. I mean it’s good money.”

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Ice Road Truckers airs  Sundays at 9 p.m. on The History Channel. Click here for more information.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

10 thoughts on “Hugh Rowland, from ‘Ice Road Truckers,’ talks candidly about the dangers of his job

  • June 24, 2013 at 2:39 am
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    Hugh is full of himself but can deliver and does not know no! If he was a little more easy on trucks bet he could make more money.
    I was pissed a bit, that idiot telling him to go home. Seems to be plenty of work, but could be wrong?
    Alex my favorite driver, would want to be like him if I drove!

    Good luck from disabled US Veteran.

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  • June 30, 2013 at 3:41 pm
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    Hugh, I’m a trucker from Pennsylvania. I admire your work ethic and I’m the same way. I’m 33 but have been driving for 13 years. My dad drove for over 30. It’s nice to see and know there are still real truckers out on the road. So many nowadays are lazy and don’t wanna work hard and keep going. There are too many guys on the road who don’t care. Wouldn’t stop to help you, wont let you in getting on the highways. People give you shit for being mean or whatever. I disagree. You are one of what’s left of a dying breed in our industry. I’m a fan and I respect you and what you do. Thank you and keep on rolling. God Bless

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  • August 26, 2013 at 12:23 am
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    I for 1 don’t care for Hugh Rowland cause every thing is so funny to him & I don’t like the way he drives his rigs & the way he treats the drivers & I’m glad that Art went over 2 Polar cause Mark treats his drivers & takes care of his rigs & every time Ice Truckers come on I root for Polar & it wasn’t right for him to back stab Mark by starting a business & going to ruin him I come from a family of truckers but I’m keeping my fingers cross & hope vp goes out of business Hugh is so full of himself & I wish that he goes out of business & doesn’t come back on the next Ice Truckers & his laughter reminds me of a hyena so Polar keep going on u have already shown me u r better then VP

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  • October 16, 2013 at 9:54 pm
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    Hugh Rowland is an ass I know a lot if drivers excellent drivers and they are not like him at all. They have brains and people with intelligence don’t act like children. I like the show but question why they keep an idiot like Hugh with no brains around he ruins what the show could be. I know many people who would watch if they took nb nuts off.

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  • August 28, 2014 at 8:48 pm
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    Do you have someone in the truck with you or just a camera when on the road

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  • September 21, 2016 at 1:19 am
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    Is hugh Rowland off the air on Ice Road Truckers??

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  • March 16, 2017 at 4:28 am
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    Hugh… keep up the works… love to read about a guy who dares the elements…best wishes

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  • March 16, 2017 at 4:33 am
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    Hugh…check on you everyday to make sure you are still going strong… take care big guy

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  • March 16, 2017 at 4:38 am
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    Hey Hugh… we pray for you… driving this kind of roads needs guts…. and you big guy can do it…. God be with you always…

    Connie

    Reply

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